If the passage from Mark’s Gospel sounds familiar, it’s because we heard part of the same reading a few weeks ago on the Second Sunday of Advent. On that Sunday, we heard John the Baptist talk about the coming of Jesus and the baptism that he would provide-the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John saw Jesus as both mightier than him and more worthy than him, and Jesus said that no one greater than John had ever lived. John saw himself as not being worthy enough to untie the sandals on Jesus’ feet, and that was a task that was dirty and not very appealing according to the culture of that time.
Today, we heard about Jesus’ baptism and the coming of the Holy Spirit on him. John proclaimed Christ’s superiority by distinguishing between his own baptism with water and the baptism that Christ would provide with the Holy Spirit. Several Old Testament passages speak of the Holy Spirit being poured out like water. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit supplies us with supernatural power just like the Holy Spirit revealed its supernatural power at Jesus’ baptism.
All three members of the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-were present at Jesus’ baptism. The parting of heaven was a foretaste of both Jesus’ statement in Mark 1:15 that the kingdom of heaven was near and the tearing of the veil of the temple when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus’ birth ended the separation of God and man that was created when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.
The Holy Spirit changes things. It works through Jesus to bridge the gap between us and God. Reconciliation with God was possible because of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. Not only was this gap first bridged at Jesus’ baptism when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a dove, it was also bridged at his death when the veil in the temple was torn in two. The Temple was divided into several sections, including the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain. The only person who could enter this particular part of the temple was the High Priest, and even then he could only enter on the Day of Atonement. No one else could enter, so a rope was tied to the high priest’s waist so that if anything happened to him he could be removed without anyone else having to enter. A bell was attached to the high priest so that people on the outside could hear him move. If the bell stopped ringing for any length of time, the people would know that something happened to the high priest and that they needed to pull him out of there immediately.
God claims us through baptism. In the waters of our baptism, God speaks our name, unites us to Christ and grants us the promise of new life. He says that he loves us, he claims us and he is proud of us. Nothing else is needed. No one can take our new identity in Christ away from us. No matter what other names we are called by others or even by ourselves, we are now beloved children of God. In the Baptism Service in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services, there is a line that is read when a person is baptized-“I sign you with the sign of the cross, and I mark you as Christ’s own forever.” We have been adopted into God’s family. God’s love for us can’t be changed. It guides our behaviour. Because of God’s love, there are certain things we won’t do and there are certain things we will do-things that we must do. Through Jesus, we have a love that will take risks and a family identity that can’t be broken.
Baptism tells us that we are deeply rooted in the possibility toward goodness. That is a revelation to us. It goes against the stain of original sin which I mentioned earlier. It encourages us to take a risk by going into this unknown territory. God offers harmony, intensity, peace, compassion and justice-things that are alien to our world.
Why did Jesus have to be baptized? After all, he was sinless. Jesus said in Mathew 3:15 that he needed to be baptized “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was God’s counsel in Luke 7:29-30 that people be baptized of John. In other words, God tells us to repent. Jesus asked John to baptize him as an act of obedience to God’s purposes. Jesus wanted to set a good example for us by doing the Father’s will. His baptism also served to introduce him to John and the people of Israel as the long-promised Messiah.
Jesus’ baptism was necessary in order to fulfill the requirements of the Old Testament law, which required repentance from sins and hence John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. Jesus had to be baptized because he was born and died under the law to deliver us from the law (which was so strict that it could not be obeyed perfectly). The Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus at his baptism commissioned Jesus for a unique service. Jesus carried the Holy Spirit wherever he went and gave it to those who were receptive to his message. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we are empowered to do God’s work in our world.
Jesus was God’s answer to Isaiah’s prayer that God would come down to earth and be fully present with humanity. He was and is God’s son in a way that others created in God’s image are not. Jesus was the Son of God, but his baptism gave him the verbal assurance that he was indeed God’s son. He was born of the Holy Spirit, but his baptism gave him the visible assurance that the Spirit was certainly present with him. Jesus’ baptism gave him the positive assurances that he would need during his temptation, his time of ministry, his sufferings and death.
We long for someone to tell us the truth even if it will hurt us. God created this longing in our hearts. We long to have someone who can help us understand what is going on in the world and what we need to do. That person may or may not be a prophet as long as he or she speaks the truth of God’s word. Take me, for example. I don’t consider myself to be a prophet, but each and every message I preach is based on the truth of God’s word as written in the Bible.
Jesus and John the Baptist also spoke the truth. They spoke of the need for repentance, and repentance is the first step in a journey that leads us to baptism by the Holy Spirit. It requires us to change our direction. In other words, we have to “turn or burn.” Baptism is the second step in the journey. It means a burial with Jesus and resurrection to a new life in Christ. Baptism with water is a symbol of the washing away of the dirt of our old, sinful life. Forgiveness of sins is the third step. It is ushered in by our baptism and our repentance. When God forgives us, he wipes our record clean. He takes his big bottle of Liquid Paper or his big roll of correction tape and crosses out the mistakes of our lives, just like the father forgave his wayward son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Jesus’ baptism ushered in a new way of dealing with sin. People did not have to go to the temple in Jerusalem because Jesus became the new temple. Repentance is not something we can do only once in our lives and then forget about it. Repentance must be done each and every day because each and every day Satan will try to get us to move in a different direction. When we come together in worship, God tells us that he loves us, and in return we tell him that we love him too.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit allows us to see ourselves as gospel peacemakers in our world. It allows us to be merciful to those who ask for forgiveness. It allows us to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves-the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, prisoners and so on. It allows us to spread God’s love to everyone.
A few years ago, I read a story about a mother who was at home with her two young daughters one lazy afternoon. Everything seemed to be just fine until the mother realized something strange. The house was quiet. And as every parent knows, a quiet house in the daytime can only mean one thing: the kids are up to no good.
Quietly walking into each of the girls’ rooms and not finding them there, she began to get worried. Then she heard it: the sound of whispering followed by the flushing of a toilet. Following the sound, she soon realized where it was coming from. It was coming from her bathroom. Whispers, flush. Whispers, flush. Whispers, flush. Poking her head into the room, she was able to see both of her daughters standing over the commode. Whispers, flush. One of them was holding a dripping Barbie doll by the ankles and the other one had her finger on the handle. Whispers, flush. Wanting to hear what her daughter was saying, she slipped quietly into the room. Whispers, flush. And this is what she heard: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and in the hole you go.” Flush.
We know what it feels like to have life grab us by the ankles and dangle us over the waters of chaos. And we know that this happens in spite of our faith. We even know that, at times, it happens precisely because of our faith. When this happens, we can take comfort in the knowledge that because we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, we have the strength we need to face life’s challenges.
Baptism means that God has broken through the barrier between him and us. In return, we are to break through the challenges and problems of the world with everything we have been given by the Holy Spirit. Saying yes to our baptism means saying yes to facing the challenges of our world and yes to a life torn open by God’s love. Saying yes to our baptism means that our sins have been forgiven and we have been given a new start in life through Jesus Christ.
As soon as he was baptized, Jesus was on the move, and that fits in with the urgency of Mark’s Gospel. We have a similar calling. We are baptized for action. We are baptized to go out into the world and be the hands, voice and presence of Christ. We are baptized for the sake of others and for the sake of the world. For example, I publish all of my sermons on my blog-www.sermonsfrommyheart.com-and they have been viewed many times by people from all over the world. Regardless of what we do, say or think, we must be bold in our actions and faithful to our calling. That way, when we get to the Pearly Gates, we can hear God say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
- McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
- Exegesis for Mark 1:4-11. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
- Kristopher J. Hewitt, “I Love You Too.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, Baptism of the Lord, (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- The Rev. David Lewicki, “As It Was in the Beginning.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- The Rev. Timothy T. Boggess, “In the Hole He Goes.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Rick Morley, “Handling Sin: A Reflection on Mark 1:4-11.” Retrieved from www.rickmorley.com/archives
- Brian P. Stoffregen, “Mark 1:4-11, 1st Sunday after the Epiphany/Baptism of Our Lord-Year B.” Retrieved from http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/mark1x4.htm
- The Rev. Maxwell Grant, “Torn Open, By God.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Pastor Dave Risendal, “Baptism: the Heart of our Faith.” Retrieved from http://onelittleword.org/?p=6765